Smith speaks to Meigs PERI group

POMEROY — Meigs County Commissioner Randy Smith told members of the Meigs County Public Employees Retirees Inc. Chapter 74 that he hopes to clarify answers to many of the questions and rumors about various issues in the county.

Smith confirmed that the commissioners are discussing obtaining a new courthouse, and added that they are not considering any new taxes for the purpose. He said it has not been determined if the new courthouse will be a new or existing structure. A new facility would be paid for with income brought into the county from casino legislation and other savings. Smith said commissioners are looking at several options, including the Mark Porter Auto property, the old Meigs General Hospital, Powell’s Super Value property and the Veterans Memorial Hospital site on Mulberry Heights. He confirmed the county now owns all three sites.

Smith spoke of the problems the county faces with the present courthouse, emphasizing the lack of adequate space for county operations, which has been a problem for many years and continues to grow due to the amount of records they are required, by law, to keep. Smith said the county has been forced to rent storage space for many years.

Smith said the county spends $30,000 a month to house prisoners outside of Meigs County jails. The county’s goal is to have a facility that meets the needs of the sheriff’s office as well as the county government. He said that the county would be able to save $30,000 and be able to take in prisoners from other areas for additional income.

Smith assured the group that the present courthouse would be kept and put to some use, as it is a historic building and there are grants available to help maintain it if it is vacated. While he said there are no grants available for construction of new government buildings, there are “pocket grants” available to subsidize with energy saving or security projects in a new building.

The Ohio Revised Code outlines the responsibilities of the Board of County Commissioners, Smith said, and by law the commissioners are only required to work eight hours every 90 days, but said they probably work 40-60 hours a week. He said most of the time they spend in the office is based around problem-solving, as they receive calls about everything going on in the county. Many calls also pertain to the management of Rutland Water and Sewer District.

The county commissioners were forced to take over the system due to a financial crisis in the operation, he said. With no money to pay for staff, the commissioners divided duties between themselves. Smith took over billing, Commissioner Mike Bartrum took over customer service and Commissioner Tim Ihle oversees the system maintenance. They are currently working to obtain a total of $12 million in grants to construct a better system.

“It has been quite a task, but we are now turning a curve and hopefully will be able to build an infrastructure that will support growth in the area,” Smith said.

He said the county commissioners have no authority regarding brine from the Marcellus Shale fracking operation being transporated into Meigs County from other areas and being injected into Meigs County wells. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is the permitting agency, and they haven’t included the board in any of their meetings or made the commissioners privy to any of their discussions, Smith said. He added that the only authority the commissioners have is overseeing any damages to county roads as a result of the transporting of brine. The Environmental Protection Agency is the authority over the right to inject the waste product into the ground.

“We have heard from people on both sides of the issue; those against the practice, believing it to be an environmental safety issue, and those who believe it is safe and a great economic opportunity for the area,” Smith said. He added that he was not sure either way, but had to think that as strict as the EPA is on other issues, they are certainly on top of this one.

Smith reported that the county will have a new dog shelter. At this time, the commissioners are looking for a suitable location and plan to have a facility equipped to provide the public with an operation of which they can be proud. He said he hoped that by doing so people will be more inclined to visit and adopt pets from the shelter. He praised the current dog warden and her staff of volunteers, saying they were doing a great job, had many improvements and that things could only do better with a new facility.

Smith spoke about the Medical Mission Project that was operated by military personnel as part of their emergency training. He credited his fellow commissioners with working to help receive funding through a $1.2 million grant to include Meigs County in the program. Smith said he hoped the services would be made available again.

Smith mentioned many improvements that residents should be proud of, including the new Holzer Emergency Room, the Robert E. Byer Emergency Operations Center, the relocation of MedFlight from Wellston to Meigs County, the new Mark Porter Auto Center under construction and the purchase of the old Pomeroy High School building by Wolfe Mountain Entertainment, which promises to bring many entertainment activities to the community.

“We are committed to working together to bring about positive change, and bring Meigs County into the 21st Century,” he said.